Awsworth is a small village in the Broxtowe district on the edge of Greater Nottinghamshire. A former mining community, a little over 2,000 people currently call it home.
Back in the early 90’s, it was the location of a series of most unusual sightings.
But first, an urban legend. One I have heard attributed to several places, but the first time it was told to me was in relation to Awsworth.
According to local lore, in late 1976 a teenage boy found a Ouija board in his grandparent’s attic. Deciding to test its power, he declared out loud that he would gladly trade his soul to Satan in exchange for the ability to turn himself into a werewolf. Later that evening, a friend of the boy received an odd phone call, consisting of strange growling and guttural noises.
The next day the boy was found dead in his bedroom, having slit his own throat with a knife made of silver*.
This tale is certainly interesting, if only because it highlights the English propensity for placing blame at the Devil’s door for the misfortune of the young.
But, as I stated, it is probably no more than an urban legend. There are no records of any young males passing away in the village in 1976, let alone by suicide.
Yet there is evidence of something lupine abroad in the sleepy lanes of Awsworth some fifteen years later.
22nd May 2012
Phillip Bishop is a short and jovial fellow. Apparently in his mid-40’s, he has the countenance of someone half that age. Back in the August of 1992, he had just started as the local postman in the village.
Currently a painter and decorator, Mr Bishop has kindly taken an afternoon out of his schedule to meet me at The Bell Inn in central Nottingham. Over a pint of Guinness he tells me of his experience in the summer of ’92.
“It was a Saturday. I know that as I had the next day off. No post on a Sunday, yeah. I was ‘sposed to meet my friend Travis for a few beers at our favourite pub, The Gate. I ‘member that I’d woken up late. I always had a nap on Saturday afternoon. I didn’t want to be falling asleep at the pub. I’d done that before and woken up with a dick drawn on my face in permanent marker.
“Anyway, like I said, I’d slept a bit longer than I’d meant to. So I got dressed, scarfed down a sandwich and jumped on my bike.
“It was getting dark, but it was still warm, and a full moon with it. I flew down Main Street on my way to the boozer.
“As I was going down the road, I saw in the distance this tall guy. He really stood out, dressed all in black. It looked like he had a long coat on, one that went all the way down his legs, and a hat pulled down over his face.
“He seemed… out of place, just standing stock still by the side of the road in the moonlight.
“As I got closer, I realised it wasn’t a man at all.”
I ask him what it was.
“It was like a… a dog, I ‘spose. A giant dog. Stood up on is back legs, like a guy. With pointed ears and this big, long snout.
“It was staring at me with these big yellow eyes. I didn’t even think to turn around. I just pedalled by it as fast as my bike would carry me.
“As I went by it kinda growled at me. Like it was saying, ‘I see you, lad. Keep going. Keep going.’ And it didn’t take those horrible yellow eyes off me. Not once.
“I got to the Gate and told Travis about this weird dog-man. He didn’t believe me at first, but as the beers went down he could see I wasn’t lying. I was pretty shaken up by the whole thing. After a couple of hours and some ‘Dutch courage’, we decided to go back and look for it.
“We didn’t find it. I cycled that route many nights after, and I never saw anything like that thing again.
“I’m not crazy, Dr Gotobed. And I wasn’t drunk. Like I said, I was on my way to the pub when I saw it. Between you and me, I wish I’d never seen it.”
Mr Bishop’s apparent desire to be believed, I find, makes him all the more credible.
But were there other sightings of this mysterious dog-man that warm summer in 1992?
Two mornings later, at nearby Swindlegate farm, two horses were found dead in their stables. Their carcasses were torn apart as if, in the words of the stable owner, ‘savaged by something particularly large and particularly nasty’.
The local authorities were at a loss to explain what could, and indeed, would, cause such carnage.
The trail falls silent, and no further sightings are reported. At least until early 1994.
According to police records, late in the evening of January the 11th, one Mr Tankard was on his way back to his home in Awsworth from Gatwick airport, his long-haul flight from the Caribbean having touched down a few hours previous.
Mr Tankard was, by his own admission, very tired from his journey, and he was struggling to stay awake at the wheel.
At about midnight, he turned off the A610 and onto Awsworth Lane, the road that eventually becomes Main Street. Half a mile along, a large black shape bounded across the road in front of him. Mr Tankard slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. His vehicle struck the dark mass head on and with a dull thud sent it flying into a nearby field.
Mr Tankard stopped his car and he went to look for whatever he had struck. He found it, a few yards away. He recalled it was a large animal, possibly a dog, although bigger than any canine he had ever seen. It wasn’t breathing, so, after checking his car for damage, he continued home and called the police when he got there.
23rd May 2012
Paru Singh was the Scenes of Crime Officer on duty that night, and she was asked to accompany a local police officer out to the location of the accident. They were the first on the scene.
I meet her at a local coffee shop where she shares with me her recollection of that early January morning.
“An officer had gone to Mr Tankard’s home and was telling us over the radio what we could expect. He said the old boy reckoned he’d struck some kind of dog. Like, a massive dog. He seemed to think that it might’ve even have been a wolf.
“But you and I know that there are no wolves in England, am I right, Dr Gotobed? There hasn’t been for two hundred years.”
She blows the steam from her coffee and takes a sip.
“But the officer who was at their home and had looked over the car said he’d found tufts of black fur stuck in the bumper and the radiator grille.
“So that I got me thinking it might’ve been a German Shepherd or a husky of some kind. They can get pretty big, and the old boy did say he was knackered. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him? Tiredness mixed with driving at night can do that to a person.
“But as we were driving down Awnswoth Lane it struck me how bright the moon was that night, and there were no clouds at all.
“We found the skid marks on the road, that must’ve been the point where Mr Tankard had hit the brakes, and we got out and searched the field next to the road. We found the body quite quickly.
“It wasn’t a German Shepherd, or a husky.
“And it certainly wasn’t a wolf.”
What was it?
“It was a man. A naked man.”
An autopsy was conducted on this corpse and the cause of death was noted as massive internal trauma caused by the impact with Mr Tankard’s vehicle.
The man was six foot seven tall, in his early forties, and judged to be in robust health at the time of his death. Apart from an impressive amount of body hair, there was nothing deemed unusual about him physiologically.
His fingerprints and DNA were taken and ran against all databases available to the police at the time, to no avail. Even after a huge media campaign, no one ever came forward to claim the body.
He was buried in a shared, unmarked grave, his identity still a mystery.
So who was this hirsute man running around the fields of Awsworth during a January full moon? Was he somehow the same creature that Mr Bishop saw, the same beast responsible for the deaths of the two horses at Swindlegate farm? Or was the young postman mistaken that night in July, and the incident at the nearby stables merely coincidental?
Either way, Mr Tankard hit something that night on his way home from the airport, and to this day, he insists it was an animal, and definitely not a human being that he struck.
Once again, there is a curious end to this case. Paru Singh tells me that several years later, one of the other bodies buried in the same unmarked grave as our mystery man was exhumed, evidently to be subjected to further DNA testing. According to her, the officers charged with performing this task were most unamused to find someone had buried the remains of a large canine in the same plot.
The Scenes of Crime Officer did not point out the rather obvious correlation, instead choosing to discreetly hold her tongue.
I fear I would not have been able to do the same.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
* I also heard this tale was I was younger, but in relation to a village in Yorkshire, not Awsworth. When I read this file, I couldn’t help but note the similarities with this earlier report – C.R.